I love to praise the Lord through my music, and this blog tells of my adventures with TOM, the Shigeru Kawai. My day job is teaching English, among other things, to the wonderful students at St. Louis Christian College.
Facebook tells me that today is Teacher Appreciation Day. I’m old enough now that nearly all my teachers have passed away, but I’d like to give credit to some of them.
My 2ndgrade teacher, Miss Fourt, always began the school day by singing and Bible reading. (I am betraying my age here; prayer was still permitted in the public schools.) After nearly 60 years, I remember some of the songs we learned. I was not the best reader at the beginning of the 2ndgrade, but she nourished my love of books and stories. She might have saved my academic career, and she was the teacher I always wanted to be.
My elementary school music teacher, Miss Sloan, fed my soul and my mind by introducing classical music and music history. I may have been the only person in the room who thought classical music was fun, but I know that as a teacher, it only takes one interested kid to keep you going. She was the teacher who encouraged me to perform, giving me my first chance to play in front of lots of people. (And, if you’re in music class, you’re not in gym!)
In college, I was privileged to accompany the University Singers and some private voice students of Tom Mills. A fine Christian man with one of the best voices I ever heard, he patiently taught me to express the words of a song, even if it all you had was just the accompaniment. When I get to heaven, I hope he asks me to play for him again—there is no doubt that he’ll lead the heavenly choir.
Write a note of appreciation to your teachers. I can tell you—we keep a file, and one good note can make our week!
Public Service Announcement: If you are expecting uplifting content out of this edition of Songs from the Living Room, it’s not here. Just go on about your business and wish me well unless you want to know what’s happening in the rest of the house.
Well, the washer died. It’s not exactly dead, but it is throwing codes in spite of The Very Handy Husband’s rubber bands and my threats to send it to the crusher. Since I am a woman of my word, I bought a new set yesterday–only the 3rd set in 43 years of marriage. Shiny new appliances will be delivered next week, and the old ones will be carted off. I am under no illusions that laundry will be any more fun.
The Very Handy Husband is quite happy to have no home repair projects on his to-do list for a while, since the lawn is growing an inch a day.
CreateSpace is taking its own sweet time in approving the artwork for Streams for the Soul. My response to inquiries about when the physical CDs will be ready is a standard “couple of weeks.” It’s been a couple of weeks for the last month. Sigh.
We have taken custody of the Granddog for a couple of weeks, so daily afternoon walks–and probably morning ones as well–will be on my agenda. She will attempt to crawl into bed with us. Sometimes we’ll let her stay there.
And the big news: I have applied for licensing for a whole bunch of love songs for a new album. I have new songs to practice, so I have a Project to Accomplish. Projects keep me from getting bored and trying to do dumb stuff like cover the deck railings in crocheted slipcovers. Recording this album will probably take place after dark, after the neighbors have finished their construction projects for the day. Love songs and irregular hammer-and-nails percussion just don’t mix. I might not be opposed to a good thunderstorm, though–I had a record in high school which had thunder in the background.
May your living room have good things to look forward to.
It is the last week of school. By now, papers are just about done, and most assignments have been turned in. While some students are pulling all-nighters trying to cram every last bit of knowledge into brains that seem too full already, most are quietly enduring that last final while they dream of the joys of summer. Several couples will start the new school year this coming August with new wedding rings and new responsibilities; others will move out of the dorm to their first apartment; still others will be adulting in their brand-new jobs. My colleagues and I are reclusive in our offices, finishing up grades and end-of-semester paperwork. After meetings finish next week, the Great Silence will begin as the campus will lack the voices of young adults. We will miss the new graduates and gear up for new freshmen. We say farewell to a beloved professor and look forward to greeting two new ones. This is a bittersweet time. We’ll say good-bye, but the time for hellos is still in the future.
Usually we can’t wait for summer break. If you work in academia as long as I have, even your body develops a rhythm that mimics a school schedule. April is the month of pressing on, waiting for the rest you know is coming. This year, though, we have been overtaken by the White Witch of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: “It’s always winter, but never Christmas.” The trees are still bare, and the furnace is still necessary. The Brave Little Tulip in the college flower bed has not yet developed the courage to open its bud. It just doesn’t feel like summer vacation begins a week from Friday.
But whether I feel like summer or not, it is here. And with summer, I am planning new projects. I want to get some more reading done, but in the summer, it’s mostly novels. I’d like to clean my closet (this one has been on my to-do list as long as I can remember). I’m going to spend a week at summer camp with a friend, and another several days at a convention. I’m going to visit the grandchildren. The Very Tired Husband and I will get away for a week, maybe two. And I think I may record another album—love songs this time. I have a list of songs in my head, but it’s not complete. What would you like to hear on a romantic album? Comment and let me know!
Every ten years or so, homeowners find that the house needs major maintenance. Appliances wear out, wiring ages, gutters rust, etc. Our house is no exception to the 10-year rule. Last week our kitchen sink developed a clog under the drain. When I’d turn on the garbage disposal, that side of the sink would dispose of the garbage—into the other sink! When the dishwasher ran, it would discharge its water into both sides of the sink. We’ve had this problem before, and it meant that the drain pipes needed a good cleaning, which my Ever Patient Husband cleaned while I worked late. I came home to functioning drains.
Then my washer, which our son says is certainly old enough to drive and maybe old enough to vote, decided to throw an error code when it got down to the spin cycle. Sometimes I could reset it by hitting pause and then resuming; other times it wouldn’t reset until I gave up and just washed the whole load again. Aside from the pleasure of having very clean clothes, it took all evening to get just one load through the washer; I should be able to do a week’s worth of laundry in that time. So my Very Handy Husband consulted an online repair shop (Google and YouTube) and decided there was a loose connection in the wiring. He spent Friday evening with wires. He cleaned connections and used a rubber band to hold things in place. At any rate, the washer seems to work just fine now (at least until the rubber band dies), but it may be my threat of going to Slyman Brothers for a new washer that has put the Fear of the Junkyard into it.
At the same time, after weeks of nursing our kitchen faucet, which seemed to be as stingy with water as Jack Benny was with cash, I decided that enough is enough and went to Home Depot (by myself) and bought a new one. While I was showering this morning, the husband busied himself installing the replacement faucet (I bought one that fit, praise be to God). Then we turned on the water. Horrors! The problem was not in the faucet. It was in the plumbing. Somewhere in the bowels of the piping, there was a Clog. Now, mind you, my husband is not a small man, and the undersink cabinet has a very small door. He has to turn sideways and wedge himself into the cabinet to work. (He’s using the dog’s pillow and rug to cushion himself, so we have an unhappy dog, too.) Both sink valves were clogged. Husband performed a double bypass plumbing operation, and water is flowing freely again.
The Very Handy Husband has declared that he is going to have a nice dinner out tonight. I hope he lets me go with him.
These are ordinary problems in an ordinary life, but I do hope Heaven has water that always runs and appliances that last forever. Until Heaven, I have my husband.
My niece got married over the weekend, and family weddings mean that you get to see, well, family. We also got to catch up with friends we haven’t seen for a while. My niece was beautiful, her mom was composed, and my dad felt well enough to attend the wedding and offer the final prayer. We left exhausted, but it was the good kind of exhaustion. There was lots of love in that room.
But the best: my two daughters and their families came, which let me have some precious time with my granddaughters. The two-year-old sat on my lap for a while as we shared a cake pop. Both of them are beautiful, and we’re going to be great buddies when they get a little older.
After such a weekend, it’s fitting to praise God for his blessings. (And besides–it’s just about my favorite song.)
Once every couple of months, our church choir visits a large senior-citizen facility and hosts a sing-along. Sometimes I will play a solo or the choir will sing the most recent Sunday special. Occasionally one of the choir members will play the violin. For many residents, it’s a highlight of their week, and the chapel is usually full of seniors ranging from those still capable of independent living, those in assisted living, and those who come from the nursing wings. We can usually count on a number of the staff as well.
We sing together for half an hour or so. My dad can generally be counted on to give a short devotion and a prayer. Then we socialize with the residents for a while before we leave or they go back to their rooms. We are there often enough that we recognize familiar faces and know several of the residents by name.
We use a standard playlist of old hymns which most church-going people can sing from memory. We hand out songbooks, but most people either can’t read them or don’t need to. The more familiar the hymn, the more verses we sing. It’s always amazing to hear how well people in their 80’s and 90’s can sing, and they really enjoy the peppier songs like “I’ll Fly Away.”
My dad was feeling great last night, so I sat down at the chapel piano and played one of the songs just to alert people that we were about to start. Suddenly, there was a voice singing along! It was my dad, singing a solo. He’s always had a fine voice, but he doesn’t sing much anymore, and I hadn’t heard him in quite a while. It was good.
As the choir sang “Amazing Grace” with the residents, it sounded so good I just stopped playing to listen. I was moved, and I’ll bet God stopped a second to take a listen, too.
I love to play music with lots of notes, and I like to play those notes as fast as I can. Going WAY too fast is my musical besetting sin, and it’s been with me a long time. Should I get nervous, my cure is to go even faster. As I get older, I’ve learned to appreciate that each song has its home–the perfect key, the perfect range, the perfect style, and the perfect tempo, so I can play slowly; I just don’t like to.
When I was in 7th or 8th grade, I became the church organist for our church. That job demands not just playing the hymns for the service, but also a prelude, music for communion, and an offertory. The organist has wide latitude here, and you get to choose what you like. It’s nice if the songs complement the mood and message of the service, but that’s not required. If you’re young and inexperienced, you’re really focused on playing what you can get through with as few mistakes as possible.
One morning a couple of irate older ladies came up to me, and accused me of playing an Irish jig for the offertory. No, it wasn’t a jig–wasn’t even Irish! The song was one of the greatest hits of the 18th century, and by Bach, to boot. Couldn’t have been more classical. I must have played it at top speed, since it met my “favorite song” criteria: tuneful and lots of notes which could be played rapidly.
That song was one of my mom’s favorites, and it’s still one of mine. I play it a little slower now, with a little more finesse. Mark Hayes’ masterful arrangement puts a new twist on it, which makes this 250-year-old hit just a little more contemporary.
When you record an album, you get to choose the songs which will go in it. For this first one, my criteria was pretty simple: I chose things I like. My musical tastes are pretty wide-ranging (you can find rap and country in my iTunes library, right up next to all those classical pieces), but I tend to gravitate toward piano pieces which express emotion. I like to play songs which have good lyrics. Though I cannot sing*, I think about the words as I play the song and try to communicate the message. “Speak, O Lord” begins the album because it expresses my desire to be open to God’s teaching. In addition, the arrangement is just the best!
*Trust me on this. I have to remind myself not to sing along with the choir as I direct, lest the Facebook livestream of the church service lose viewers.
Speak O Lord as we come to You
To receive the food of Your holy word
Take Your truth plant it deep in us
Shape and fashion us in Your likeness
That the light of Christ might be seen today
In our acts of love and our deeds of faith
Speak O Lord and fulfill in us
All Your purposes for Your glory
Teach us Lord full obedience
Holy reverence true humility
Test our thoughts and our attitudes
In the radiance of Your purity
Cause our faith to rise
Cause our eyes to see
Your majestic love and authority
Words of power that can never fail
Let their truth prevail over unbelief
Speak O Lord and renew our minds
Help us grasp the heights of Your plans for us
Truths unchanged from the dawn of time
That will echo down through eternity
And by grace we’ll stand on Your promises
And by faith we’ll walk as You walk with us
Speak O Lord till Your church is built
And the earth is filled with Your glory
This last month, my life has been a whirlwind of activity. Generally, that’s just the way I like it. On top of work, I led a workshop at the Missouri Christian Convention and threw a bridal shower for my niece who’s getting married next Sunday. In between those two events, Bob and I finished editing Streams for the Soul, and I submitted it for publication and distribution, which involved learning all sorts of things we hadn’t done before—or even knew needed to be done.
And now all that work is done. I have no more speaking engagements on my radar, the leftovers from the shower have been eaten, the CD is out on the Interwebs. I can sit back and watch CD sales soar—or amble leisurely along the trail, which is more accurate. I have time to knit and read, maybe write a little.
But I don’t want to. I’m suffering, I think, from adrenaline poisoning, that feeling when a frenzy of activity comes to a complete stop. After so much activity, sitting and reading don’t provide the frenzied stimulation I’m used to. It’s going to take some discipline to slow down and rest before I begin a new project. One of my daughters said, “The problem is, Mom, that you don’t know how to do anything halfway.1” “Go big or go home” might be my life philosophy.
So this week I plan to be still. The rest of April will be a blur as school winds down and we suffer/endure/enjoy2 the visit from the accreditation team for the College. We have a granddaughter’s first birthday, a wedding, and graduation before May rolls around. Rest is a really good idea.
Besides, God often speaks in a still, small voice. Too much activity and you’ll overlook it. I don’t want to miss what God might be trying to tell me.
1Not the word she actually used
2No way to know which verb is correct until the team gets here.
Today is a good day. Streams for the Soul has been released, at least in downloadable form. We’ve had a day’s respite from the rain, and we finally see the sunshine. The dog is finally eating the food she’s ignored all day, and we have time for a nap.
Of course, Good Friday is good for more than just the fact that we are seeing sunshine. It is, after all, the day that we commemorate Christ’s death. Even though our church isn’t holding Good Friday services, the day always puts me in a contemplative mood, and that makes me turn to music.
Here is a song I recorded this afternoon: “What Wondrous Love Is This” and “Were You There.”